Lack of inexpensive, reliable energy delivery is one of the chief obstacles to growth and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, around 600 million people there lack access to electricity.
One way to remedy the situation is to invest in unconventional, innovative solutions. That is the idea behind the Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Grand Challenge for Development. Launched in late June by President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab, the UK Department for International Development, and the Shell Foundation, this new initiative will invest $36 million into finding new ways to bring electricity to 20 million off-grid households in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
The Scaling Off-Grid Energy: Grand Challenge for Development also announced the Enterprise Awards, hoping that the $4 million in prize money that they will share, will enable the recipients to expand home solar power solutions across Africa, improve payment and distribution processes, and bring down costs for customers.
In mid-November, Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz announced the 8 winners. In no particular order, they are Greenlight Planet, which provides pay-as-you-go, low-cost solar home solutions in Uganda and Nigeria.
In Kenya, d.light is developing software, training materials, and a call center to improve their direct distribution of solar lighting. Also in Kenya, Orb Energy is partnering with banks and microfinance institutions to finance consumer solar system purchases.
In Zambia, Fenix offers expandable solar solutions kits, while VITALITE sells pay-as-you-go solar home systems for rural, off-grid communities.
In Ghana, PEG Africa is testing new digital payment tools to help rural customers pay for their solar home systems using mobile money. Shinbone Labs sells low cost, expandable, remotely activated and monitored solar kits in Ghana and Benin, while Village Energy is building a distribution and servicing network in rural Uganda by training young men and women to become technicians and retail shop managers in their communities.
"The Grand Challenge for Development is designed to support innovators like these eight companies who are scaling up their inventions," said Power Africa Coordinator Herscowitz.
"The options for powering your home and business are changing, and these types of innovations will create opportunities to transform the power sector in homes across the planet."